The Monarch Monitoring Project is a long-term study on monarch migration through Cape May, NJ. It is a part of the New Jersey Audubon Research Department, and closely affiliated with the Cape May Bird Observatory.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Monarch season is over ... or is it?

The field season for the CMBO Monarch Monitoring Project runs from Sept. 1 through Oct. 31.  Our censuses are conducted on those days, the final one for 2015 at 2 pm last Saturday.  We haven't analyzed the data yet, but the weekly totals are posted on our website data page,

November begins many years without any monarchs still around Cape May Point; that's just about the time when they arrive en masse at the mountainous areas west of Mexico City where they'll spend the winter in a prolonged dormancy.  October's last week was very quiet for monarchs.  But the month's end, along with the first few days of November, brought mild weather to Cape May and we've seen a slight but noticeable increase in monarch numbers.  I tagged 15 over the last two days.  Can monarchs that are still in Cape May Point in early November possibly make it to Mexico?  We really don't know, but many are in great shape and seem capable of making the journey, as long as they stay ahead of the freezing weather.  So we go ahead and tag a few, hoping to someday get data returned about one of these late season butterflies.

Late season monarch on zinnias in a Cape May Point garden.
The presence of late monarchs was a bonus on Monday, when the entire 7th grade class (more than 120 students) from Richard M. Teitelman Middle School visited Cape May Point on a natural history field trip.  The well-organized teacher set up a number of stations for groups of students to visit during this full-day field trip, and Field Naturalist Lindsey Brendel of the Monarch Monitoring Project taught a session about monarch biology.  Six different groups learned from Lindsey, and happily we were able to find a monarch for each group, so all of the students could watch as a monarch was tagged and then see it released back into the wild.  Lindsey is an engaging teacher who held the students' attention quite well, but no human can compete with the charisma of a living monarch butterfly.

Field Naturalist Lindsey Brendel and students from Teitelman Middle School.

Thanks to many generous contributions to the Monarch Monitoring Project we've been able to extend Lindsey's work season until mid-November; otherwise we would not have had staff available to meet with the students this day.  Lindsey is also working to organize all the data collected by MMP team members and by volunteer Monarch Ambassadors who made studies of monarchs in areas north of Cape May proper.

All of the students were able to feel the strong grip of a monarch's feet.
Colder weather is predicted for the coming weekend, but there are no freezing temperatures in the 10-day forecast, so perhaps we'll see a few monarchs lingering well into November this year.  They're not alone, as a few other butterflies (see below) are also still on the wing.  We're tempted to spend all day, every day, out watching these late season butterflies, but we've also got a lot of work to do, organizing and interpreting data, preparing reports, and beginning to plan for the 2016 monarch season.  Please keep watching this blog to learn about what we learned in 2015 and what we plan to study in 2016.

American Lady butterflies can still be found in the gardens of Cape May Point.

The little skipper called Sachem is also still common at the Point.